When Allison Hoeltzel Savini, founder of Officina del Poggio (ODP), arrived at Genes Café at Barneys Madison Avenue for her interview, she was jet-lagged, having just landed from Italy the night before. She may have had a busy schedule ahead, but her earnest enthusiasm bubbled throughout the conversation. She was wearing a relaxed two-piece suit with a tie-neck blouse and black Mary Janes, and as she started describing the bag collection it became clear her personal style is a reflection of her style ethos.
ODP values timelessness, quality, and craftsmanship. Like her outfit, the bags have a vintage feel without being forced or hokey. Savini attributes her love of fashion and vintage to her grandmother, who would allow her to pick fabrics and patterns for custom outfits for her piano recitals and high school dances.
Born in South Texas, she grew up playing piano until she was 18. She even attended university under a music scholarship but realized she wanted to interact with people more. Shifting gears, she switched her major to arts administration so she could learn the business side of the arts—mainly, marketing and fundraising. It was in grad school that she was offered an internship at the Bologna opera house that would change her life. She fell in love with Italy and knew she wanted to make it part of her life and career. When finding a job in the arts proved challenging, she began to shift toward another creative field she loved: fashion.
Savini landed positions in product development: first as a design assistant and eventually as product manager for various brands. It was in these jobs that she was able to build crucial relationships with factories and artisans that would later help her in her own business. Chatting over coffee, she revealed how ODP’s bags are made and some of the obstacles the young label has faced. Read below to learn how Savini has managed to create her successful line in a saturated market.
The Window: What was your biggest challenge when starting this business?
Allison Hoeltzel Savini: I work with factories that are really good about working with me, and I try to respect their difficulties in working with a startup. I think for a lot of new brands that’s probably the biggest challenge. You’re kind of bottom of the list for them, so you have to find ways to work with the factory, respect their limitations, and that they need to manage their major, big production clients as well as you. Balancing the communication and the distribution is a challenge, too, because when you’re new people want to see you in the press. We launched our online e-commerce basically to make the bags available because we had a lot of press interested in them, but we weren’t distributed widely at all yet.
Why did you decide to move into bags? What’s the ethos at the core of the brand?
I really wanted to do something that was Italian and very well made—something that didn’t feel too trendy. Timeless, well made, and, at the same time, modern.
Is there a specific inspiration behind the initial designs?
The core of the collection is a lot of utilitarian-type bags, like the Safari, which was inspired by my grandfather’s WWII binoculars. I think that taking something that’s sort of vintage and using the plexiglass in that shape was completely modern. But at the same time, I have acrylic bags from my grandmother from the ’50s, so it’s timeless in its own right even though it’s something on trend. I feel like, 20 years from now you can bring it out, and it would still be something that would be a special piece in your wardrobe.
How do you approach your environmental footprint?
The bags are shaped by hand. The factory has to number them to make sure that the top fits with the bottom and that they follow the entire process together. We assign forms for the bags, so none are exactly the same. The certificate is signed and numbered based on the production run so that even the customer sees that it’s something that’s handcrafted. I really wanted to focus on the craftsmanship.
Also, climate change is very important. Overall, we want to create these timeless products that you’re not going to get tired of and throw away. That in itself, I think, is a more sustainable way of purchasing.
Tell us more about the manufacturing process and how that reflects your values…
I wanted to use vegetable-tanned leather because it’s a very Tuscan product. One of the tanneries is a founding member of the Italian Vegetable-Tanned Leather Consortium. It’s a consortium of 22 tanneries that were found to protect the heritage of the tradition of vegetable tanning. In order to bear the Vera Pelle Italiana hand symbol, the tanneries have to adhere to certain regulations and rules in the tanning process and the waste. The water has to be disposed of in an environmentally friendly way. The by-products from the leather also have to be used, if possible, for other industries to recycle.
No animal is killed just for the skins. We’re trying to ask more questions regarding the origin of the skins and take it a step further. We already use the wooden forms [the base of the bag] as opposed to using plastic forms that a lot of companies use. We are now using recycled polyester, and also the dyeing process is done in a way that is less toxic. The concept is that we’re taking steps each season towards doing what we can to make the product more sustainable.
Bags are already such a saturated market. What do you think makes ODP stand out?
Our bags are utilitarian shapes and very iconic in their aesthetic. They’re well thought out in terms of the capacity. I’ll always test each bag and ask, “What are the necessities that a girl’s going to carry in her bag?” You need a wallet, sunglasses, etc. It’s an Italian brand but designed by a woman, so I know what women need in their day-to-day life, and I design for that.